If placed in an orbit high enough to escape the frictional effects of the earth's atmosphere, the motion of the satellite is controlled by the same laws of celestial mechanics that govern the motions of natural satellites, and it will remain in orbit indefinitely. At heights less than 200 mi (320 km) the drag produced by the atmosphere will slow the satellite down, causing it to descend into the denser portion of the atmosphere where it will burn up like a meteor. To attain orbital altitude and velocity, multistage rockets are used, with each stage falling away as its fuel is exhausted; the effect of reducing the total mass of the rocket while maintaining its thrust is to increase its speed, thus allowing it to achieve the required velocity of 5 mi per sec (8 km per sec). At this speed the rocket's forward momentum exactly balances its downward gravitational acceleration, resulting in orbit. Once above the lower atmosphere, the rocket bends to a nearly horizontal flight path, until it reaches the orbital height desired for the satellite.
Unless corrections are made, orbits are usually elliptical; perigee is the point on the orbit closest to the earth, and apogee is the point farthest from the earth. Besides this eccentricity an orbit of a satellite about the earth is characterized by its plane with respect to the earth. An equatorial orbit lies in the plane of the earth's orbit. A polar orbit lies in the plane passing through both the north and south poles. A satellite's period (the time to complete one revolution around the earth) is determined by its height above the earth; the higher the satellite, the longer the period. At a height of 200 mi (320 km), the period of a circular orbit is 90 min; at 500 mi (800 km), it increases to 100 min. At a height of 22,300 mi (36,000 km), a satellite has a period of exactly 24 hr, the time it takes the earth to rotate once on its axis; such an orbit is called geosynchronous. If the orbit is also equatorial, the satellite will remain stationary over one point on the earth's surface.
Since more than 1,000 satellites are presently in orbit, identifying and maintaining contact requires precise tracking methods. Optical and radar tracking are most valuable during the launch; radio tracking is used once the satellite has achieved a stable orbit. Optical tracking uses special cameras to follow satellites illuminated either by the sun or laser beams. Radar tracking directs a pulse of microwaves at the satellite, and the reflected echo identifies both its direction and distance. Nearly all satellites carry radio transmitters that broadcast their positions to tracking antennas on the earth. In addition, the transmitters are used for telemetry, the relaying of information from the scientific instruments aboard the satellite.
Satellites can be divided into five principal types: research, communications, weather, navigational, and applications.
Research satellites measure fundamental properties of outer space, e.g., magnetic fields, the flux of cosmic rays and micrometeorites, and properties of celestial objects that are difficult or impossible to observe from the earth. Early research satellites included a series of orbiting observatories designed to study radiation from the sun, light and radio emissions from distant stars, and the earth's atmosphere. Notable research satellites have included the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Infrared Space Observatory, and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (see observatory, orbiting). Also contributing to scientific research were the experiments conducted by the astronauts and cosmonauts aboard the space stations launched by the United States (Skylab) and the Soviet Union (Salyut and Mir); in these stations researchers worked for months at a time on scientific or technical projects. The International Space Station, whose first permanent crew boarded in 2000, continues this work.
Communications satellites provide a worldwide linkup of radio, telephone, and television. The first communications satellite was Echo 1; launched in 1960, it was a large metallized balloon that reflected radio signals striking it. This passive mode of operation quickly gave way to the active or repeater mode, in which complex electronic equipment aboard the satellite receives a signal from the earth, amplifies it, and transmits it to another point on the earth. Relay 1 and Telstar 1, both launched in 1962, were the first active communications satellites; Telstar 1 relayed the first live television broadcast across the Atlantic Ocean. However, satellites in the Relay and Telstar program were not in geosynchronous orbits, which is the secret to continuous communications networks. Syncom 3, launched in 1964, was the first stationary earth satellite. It was used to telecast the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo to the United States, the first television program to cross the Pacific Ocean. In principle, three geosynchronous satellites located symmetrically in the plane of the earth's equator can provide complete coverage of the earth's surface. In practice, many more are used in order to increase the system's message-handling capacity. The first commercial geosynchronous satellite, Intelsat 1 (better known as Early Bird), was launched by COMSAT in 1965. A network of 29 Intelsat satellites in geosynchronous orbit now provides instantaneous communications throughout the world. In addition, numerous communications satellites have been orbited by commercial organizations and individual nations for a variety of telecommunications tasks.
Weather satellites, or meteorological satellites, provide continuous, up-to-date information about large-scale atmospheric conditions such as cloud cover and temperature profiles. Tiros 1, the first such satellite, was launched in 1960; it transmitted infrared television pictures of the earth's cloud cover and was able to detect the development of hurricanes and to chart their paths. The Tiros series was followed by the Nimbus series, which carried six cameras for more detailed scanning, and the Itos series, which was able to transmit night photographs. Other weather satellites include the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES), which send weather data and pictures that cover a section of the United States; China, Japan, India, and the European Space Agency have orbited similar craft. Current weather satellites can transmit visible or infrared photos, focus on a narrow or wide area, and maneuver in space to obtain maximum coverage.
Navigation satellites were developed primarily to satisfy the need for a navigation system that nuclear submarines could use to update their inertial navigation system. This led the U.S. navy to establish the Transit program in 1958; the system was declared operational in 1962 after the launch of Transit 5A. Transit satellites provided a constant signal by which aircraft and ships could determine their positions with great accuracy. In 1967 civilians were able to enjoy the benefits of Transit technology. However, the Transit system had an inherent limitation. The combination of the small number of Transit satellites and their polar orbits meant there were some areas of the globe that were not continuously covered—as a result, the users had to wait until a satellite was properly positioned before they could obtain navigational information. The limitations of the Transit system spurred the next advance in satellite navigation: the availability of 24-hour worldwide positioning information. The Navigation Satellite for Time and Ranging/Global Positioning Satellite System (Navstar/GPS) consists of 24 satellites approximately 11,000 miles above the surface of the earth in six different orbital planes. The GPS has several advantages over the Transit system: It provides greater accuracy in a shorter time; users can obtain information 24 hours a day; and users are always in view of at least five satellites, which yields highly accurate location information (a direct readout of position accurate to within a few yards) including altitude. In addition, because of technological improvements, the GPS system has user equipment that is smaller and less complex. The former Soviet Union established a Navstar equivalent system known as the Global Orbiting Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS). The Russian-operated GLONASS will use the same number of satellites and orbits similar to those of Navstar when complete. Many of the handheld GPS receivers can also use the GLONASS data if equipped with the proper processing software.
Applications satellites are designed to test ways of improving satellite technology itself. Areas of concern include structure, instrumentation, controls, power supplies, and telemetry for future communications, meteorological, and navigation satellites.
Satellites also have been used for a number of military purposes, including infrared sensors that track missile launches; electronic sensors that eavesdrop on classified conversations; and optical and other sensors that aid military surveillance. Such reconnaissance satellites have subsequently proved to have civilian benefits, such as commercially available satellite photographs showing surface features and structures in great detail, and fire sensing in remote forested areas. The United States has launched several Landsat remote-imaging satellites to survey the earth's resources by means of special television cameras and radiometric scanners. Russia and other nations have also launched such satellites; the French SPOT satellite provides higher-resolution photographs of the earth.
See M. V. Fox, Satellites (1996); S. A. Kallen, The Giant Leaps: The Race to Space (1996); M. Long, 1997 Phillips World Satellite Almanac (1997); A. Luther, Satellite Technology: An Introduction (2d ed. 1997).
The satellite's solar panels are arrays of solar cells that provide the electrical energy needed elipsis
Learn more about communications satellite with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Natural object (moon) or spacecraft (artificial satellite) orbiting a larger astronomical body. Most known natural satellites orbit planets; the Earth's Moon is the most obvious example and was the only one known until the discovery of the Galilean satellites of Jupiter in 1610. All the solar system's planets except Mercury and Venus have moons, which vary greatly in size, composition (from rock to mostly ice), and activity (from cold and inert to volcanic). Some asteroids are also known to have their own moons. The first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched into orbit around Earth in 1957. Since then, thousands have been sent into orbit around Earth as well as the Moon, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and other bodies. Artificial satellites are used for scientific research and other purposes, such as communication (see communications satellite), weather forecasting, Earth resources management, and military intelligence. Seealso Landsat.
Learn more about satellite with a free trial on Britannica.com.
In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an object which has been placed into orbit by human endeavor. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as the Moon.
In 1903 Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (1857–1935) published Исследование мировых пространств реактивными приборами (The Exploration of Cosmic Space by Means of Reaction Devices), which is the first academic treatise on the use of rocketry to launch spacecraft. He calculated the orbital speed required for a minimal orbit around the Earth at 8 km/s, and that a multi-stage rocket fueled by liquid propellants could be used to achieve this. He proposed the use of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, though other combinations can be used.
In 1928 Herman Potočnik (1892–1929) published his sole book, Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums - der Raketen-Motor (The Problem of Space Travel — The Rocket Motor), a plan for a breakthrough into space and a permanent human presence there. He conceived of a space station in detail and calculated its geostationary orbit. He described the use of orbiting spacecraft for detailed peaceful and military observation of the ground and described how the special conditions of space could be useful for scientific experiments. The book described geostationary satellites (first put forward by Tsiolkovsky) and discussed communication between them and the ground using radio, but fell short of the idea of using satellites for mass broadcasting and as telecommunications relays.
In a 1945 Wireless World article the English science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) described in detail the possible use of communications satellites for mass communications. Clarke examined the logistics of satellite launch, possible orbits and other aspects of the creation of a network of world-circling satellites, pointing to the benefits of high-speed global communications. He also suggested that three geostationary satellites would provide coverage over the entire planet.
The first artificial satellite was Sputnik 1, launched by the Soviet Union on 4 October 1957, and that started the whole Soviet Sputnik program, with Sergei Korolev as chief designer. This triggered the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States.
Sputnik 1 helped to identify the density of high atmospheric layers through measurement of its orbital change and provided data on radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere. Because the satellite's body was filled with pressurized nitrogen, Sputnik 1 also provided the first opportunity for meteoroid detection, as a loss of internal pressure due to meteoroid penetration of the outer surface would have been evident in the temperature data sent back to Earth. The unanticipated announcement of Sputnik 1's success precipitated the Sputnik crisis in the United States and ignited the so-called Space Race within the Cold War.
In May, 1946, Project RAND had released the Preliminary Design of an Experimental World-Circling Spaceship, which stated, "A satellite vehicle with appropriate instrumentation can be expected to be one of the most potent scientific tools of the Twentieth Century. The United States had been considering launching orbital satellites since 1945 under the Bureau of Aeronautics of the United States Navy. The United States Air Force's Project RAND eventually released the above report, but did not believe that the satellite was a potential military weapon; rather, they considered it to be a tool for science, politics, and propaganda. In 1954, the Secretary of Defense stated, "I know of no American satellite program."
On July 29, 1955, the White House announced that the U.S. intended to launch satellites by the spring of 1958. This became known as Project Vanguard. On July 31, the Soviets announced that they intended to launch a satellite by the fall of 1957.
Following pressure by the American Rocket Society, the National Science Foundation, and the International Geophysical Year, military interest picked up and in early 1955 the Air Force and Navy were working on Project Orbiter, which involved using a Jupiter C rocket to launch a satellite. The project succeeded, and Explorer 1 became the United States' first satellite on January 31, 1958.
In June 1961, three-and-a-half years after the launch of Sputnik 1, the Air Force used resources of the United States Space Surveillance Network to catalog 115 Earth-orbiting satellites.
The largest artificial satellite currently orbiting the Earth is the International Space Station.
The first satellite, Sputnik 1, was put into orbit around Earth and was therefore in geocentric orbit. By far this is the most common type of orbit with approximately 2456 artificial satellites orbiting the Earth. Geocentric orbits may be further classified by their altitude, inclination and eccentricity.
The commonly used altitude classifications are Low Earth Orbit (LEO), Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and High Earth Orbit (HEO). Low Earth orbit is any orbit below 2000 km, and Medium Earth Orbit is any orbit higher than that but still below the altitude for geosynchronous orbit at 35786 km. High Earth Orbit is any orbit higher than the altitude for geosynchronous orbit.
The structural subsystem provides the mechanical base structure, shields the satellite from extreme temperature changes and micro-meteorite damage, and controls the satellite’s spin functions.
The telemetry subsystem monitors the on-board equipment operations, transmits equipment operation data to the earth control station, and receives the earth control station’s commands to perform equipment operation adjustments.
The power subsystem consists of solar panels and backup batteries that generate power when the satellite passes into the earth’s shadow. Nuclear power sources (Radioisotope thermoelectric generator's) have been used in several successful satellite programs including the Nimbus program (1964-1978).
The thermal control subsystem helps protect electronic equipment from extreme temperatures due to intense sunlight or the lack of sun exposure on different sides of the satellite’s body
The attitude and orbit controlled subsystem consists of small rocket thrusters that keep the satellite in the correct orbital position and keep antennas positioning in the right directions.
This list includes countries with an independent capability to place satellites in orbit, including production of the necessary launch vehicle. Note: many more countries have the capability to design and build satellites — which relatively speaking, does not require much economic, scientific and industrial capacity — but are unable to launch them, instead relying on foreign launch services. This list does not consider those numerous countries, but only lists those capable of launching satellites indigenously, and the date this capability was first demonstrated. Does not include consortium satellites or multi-national satellites.
|Country||Year of first launch||First satellite|
|1970||Dong Fang Hong I|
In addition to the above, countries such as South Africa, Spain, Italy, Germany, Canada, Australia, Argentina, Egypt and private companies such as OTRAG, have developed their own launchers, but have not had a successful launch. On September 28th, 2008, the private aerospace firm SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 1 rocket in to orbit. This marked the first time that a privately built liquid-fueled booster was able to reach orbit. The rocket carried a prism shaped 1.5 m (5 ft) long payload mass simulator that was set into orbit. The dummy satellite, known as Ratsat, will remain in orbit for between five and ten years before burning up in the atmosphere.
As of 2008, only seven countries from list above (Russia and Ukraine instead of USSR, also USA, Japan, China, India, and Israel) and one regional organization (the European Space Agency, ESA) have independently launched satellites on their own indigenously developed launch vehicles. (The launch capabilities of the United Kingdom and France now fall under the ESA.)
Several other countries, including South Korea, Iran, Brazil, Pakistan, Romania, Kazakhstan, Australia, Malaysia and Turkey, are at various stages of development of their own small-scale launcher capabilities, and seek membership in the club of space powers.
It is scheduled that in early 2008 South Korea will launch a KSLV rocket (created with assistance of Russia) and become the next space power. Iran already has successfully tested its own space launch vehicle (Kavoshgar 1) and is scheduled to put its first domestic satellite (Omid 1) into orbit within a year from February 4 2008. It is expected that Brazil and Pakistan will follow in the near future..
|Country||Year of first launch||First satellite||Payloads in orbit in 2008|
|1964||San Marco 1||14|
|1970||Dong Fang Hong I||64|
|1973||Intercosmos Kopernikus 500||?|
|2003||Hellas Sat 2||2|
While Canada was the third country to build a satellite which was launched into space, it was launched aboard a U.S. rocket from a U.S. spaceport. The same goes for Australia, who launched on-board a donated Redstone rocket. The first Italian-launched was San Marco 1, launched on 15 December, 1964 on a U.S. Scout rocket from Wallops Island (VA,USA) with an Italian Launch Team trained by NASA. Australia's launch project, in November 1967, involved a donated U.S. missile and U. S. support staff as well as a joint launch facility with the United Kingdom. Kazakhstan claimed to have made their satellite independently, but the satellite was built with Russian help, like Polish and Bulgarian ones earlier.
In recent times satellites have been hacked by militant organisations to broadcast propaganda and to pilfer classified information from military communication networks.
Satellites in low earth orbit have been destroyed by ballistic missiles launched from earth. Both Russia and the United States have demonstrated ability to eliminate satellites. In 2007 the Chinese military shot down an aging weather satellite, followed by the US Navy shooting down a defunct spy satellite in February 2008. Russia and the United States have also shot down satellites during the Cold war.